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Wishbone Ash - Live Dates CD (album) cover


Wishbone Ash


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4.40 | 118 ratings

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4 stars There are few bands as fundamental to the history of rock and roll, as influential to its future, yet as woefully obscured by time as Wishbone Ash. Their lack of prolonged mainstream success or even cultural re-evaluation makes it all the more jarring to hear the raucously adoring crowd fade in at the start of Live Dates, and continue all throughout. Clearly those who knew about Wishbone Ash knew there was a lot to love about this band.

The double live album craze of the 70s hadn't really hit its stride yet in 1973, with classics such as Kiss Alive and Frampton Comes Alive still a few years down the road. However in the world of progressive rock, where songs stretching at least over six minutes were par for the course, double live records must have made a lot of sense right from the start (or in the case of Yes and ELP, triple live records). The fact that Live Dates spreads its eleven tracks over two discs seems then to make a statement about Wishbone Ash as part of the prog rock canon. While not as technical and flashy as their more widely recognized prog contemporaries, Andy Powell and crew are clearly aiming to take rock and roll somewhere new...or rather somewhere ancient.

While many bands were already dabbling in medieval themes, Wishbone Ash conjure up uncompromising visions of knights and farmers, kings and cornfields, witches and wars, all cast in a chilly gray haze. Not content to simply tell tales of battles and myths, their lyrics turn philosophical, almost spiritual, on many songs, including the opening 1-2-3 punch of The King Will Come, Warrior, and my personal favorite, Throw Down The Sword. This isn't just some soundtrack music for your next reading of Tolkien or round of Dungeons And Dragons (though it certainly sets the perfect mood for both of these activities), it's great music to sit and watch the leaves turn colors in the fall, or to watch a pond freeze over in the winter, or to watch flowers bloom in spring. This is music that will have you looking to the sky and pondering the passage of time and the dream of peace.

Yet Wishbone Ash aren't just a group of wandering minstrels teleported into the 1970s, they're a real rock and roll band, and they know how to conjure up a fine brew of bluesy, early 70s rock. Cuts like Rock N Roll Widow, Jail Bait, and Blowin' Free are perfect for the live setting because of their inherent, jammy nature. The cover of Baby What You Want Me To Do clearly shows where these players' roots lie. But of course a good jam needs some great lead guitar work, and that is precisely what the band gives us through all of these more rocking numbers. Trading one sizzling solo after another, Andy Powell and Ted Turner prove over and over the awesome benefits that double lead guitars provide. Certainly Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden were all taking notes. But the pair truly shines on the more progressive side of things, weaving together hazy harmonized riffs which immediately cement themselves into your memory. Throw Down The Sword is the perfect example of this, a rather simple minor key melody from one guitar gets harmonized by the other as it fades in, the the rhythm section breaks in and carries the progression into its B-section before it all turns around to support the plaintive lead vocal in the first verse. Speaking of harmonies, though the group's vocals aren't necessarily the strongest of their peers, they make up for this with impressively catchy melodies sung in harmony most of the way through. The softer tone of the lead vocals also aides in creating the mystic atmosphere which surrounds their music.

Of course I would be remiss not to mention the 17 minute closing track, The Phoenix, and the nearly ten minute disc two opener, The Pilgrim. The former is an aural journey taking the listener through a passionately performed series of moods and dynamics, dropping out almost to nothing at one point before bringing things back around to the vocal to close out the record. One might compare its construction to the Lizard suite from King Crimson, being not so much comprised of distinct sections as it is an engulfing, evolving piece. The Pilgrim on the other hand is similar in its coherence, but takes its time in its first half building up a beautiful instrumental before getting to the meat of the song in its second half, somewhat like Rush would do on Xanadu some years later. Both of these are fine progressive pieces which serve to bookend disc two of this live set quite well.

There is one moment on the record which stands out to me as the most transcendent though, and that is the climactic lead at the end of Throw Down The Sword. The studio version of this song is famous for featuring two simultaneous guitar solos overlapping one another to great psychedelic effect, but my heart lies with this live version, in which one single guitar summons forth a melody so righteous, so full of life and color, that it inadvertently makes the rest of the record pale in comparison. If one ever needed inspiration to pick up a flying V, let this solo be a testament to that particular axe's legend and quality.

Sacro_Porgo | 4/5 |


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